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Onsite UX Interviews: What They Don’t Teach You in Design School

An interview dates is highlighted on a calendar

Over the past six years I have had the opportunity to review hundreds of candidates as part of my effort to build solid design teams at two different companies. For each offer these companies have extended, I conducted in-person interviews with three or four candidates selected from a pool of seven or eight individuals who made it to the phone screen stage, out of a larger pool of thirty to forty who submitted resumes. As these numbers demonstrate, it takes significant vetting to get to the onsite interview stage. Unfortunately, many highly qualified candidates who make it to the final phase are unable to navigate it effectively.

The goal of this article is to help candidates understand the inner workings of an onsite interview so they can position themselves for success.

Congratulations…What Next?

It takes a lot to be invited to an onsite interview, so congratulate yourself when you get to that stage, but also be prepared to handle the rigors of the process. An onsite interview can last up to six hours and be very demanding. Most Silicon Valley design organizations follow a structured process with three main parts. Typically, an interview begins with a portfolio review, which gives the candidate an opportunity to present his or her body of work. Next comes some type of design exercise to test the candidate’s design thinking chops. The day culminates with face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders.

There is already quite a bit written about one-on-one interviews, and my goal is not to repeat points others have already made. Instead, I will focus on the two design-related phases of an onsite interview: the presentation of a portfolio and the design exercise.

Portfolio Presentation

I firmly believe that a designer is only as good as his or her portfolio, because creating a good portfolio is a design problem in itself. In essence, you are trying to satisfy the needs of various stakeholders while establishing your brand and credibility.

The biggest advantage for a candidate during an onsite interview is being able to control the tempo as well as the storytelling of their work. However, I have seen many candidates unable to understand the power of having a room full of attendees who are waiting to hear their story. This impression is the most important of the day, and oftentimes makes or breaks the rest of the interview.

Based on my experience, candidates interviewing for a design role should follow what I call the “4P” structure of portfolio presentation: Person, Projects, Philosophy, and Process.


The biggest investment an organization makes when hiring is in the person it hires. It is therefore critical for candidates to open up about who they are during an interview. I have seen a wide range of approaches to doing this, from candidates showing collages of their travel pictures to someone who connected their passion for fly-fishing to design.

A good design team is one that has diverse interests and backgrounds, but a common goal. Unfortunately, I have seen many candidates who jump directly into sharing project details, not recognizing the need to say something interesting about themselves, that would allow the audience to relate to them. Design is about empathy, and this is just as true for the interview process.


Projects typically comprise the bulk of your portfolio presentation, often taking more than half the time allocated. The best project reviews are those in which a candidate leads an interesting and informative tour of their work, revealing both the breadth and depth of his or her experience.

While putting together the project section of a portfolio presentation, consider the following guidelines:

1. Use a “T” strategy. Provide a broad introduction to everything, and then deliver in-depth reviews of a couple of projects.

2. When choosing projects to review in detail, pick those that are relevant to your audience.

3. Devote ten to fifteen minutes to each of these projects, and communicate the following:

  • What was the problem? (Be sure to provide context.)
  • Why was it important? (Explain the relevance of this problem.)
  • How did you go about solving it? (Discuss your process.)
  • How did you know you solved it? (Share your results.)


The CEO of a company where I worked mentioned in a team meeting, “You are paid to give your opinion.” I believe the root of any designer’s opinion is his or her design philosophy. As a hiring manager, my goal is to bring a diverse group of opinions together. The diversity is key to the evolution of any design organization. That said, not all design philosophies are appropriate to every team. For example, a designer who believes good design comes from a designer locking him/herself in a room may not be the best fit for a team that believes in research and collaboration.

Therefore, each candidate should clearly lay out his or her design philosophy during an interview. Doing so will enable the hiring manager to make a decision that is right for the candidate and the team.


Good design is enabled or hindered by the combined action of three factors: individuals, environment, and time. In organizations where design is competing with other priorities, good process can help designers overcome shortcomings in any or all of these areas.

During interviews, candidates should share examples highlighting their command of good design process. They should showcase their ability to deal with challenges that suddenly emerge, during which resources are in short supply. For example, if someone was the first hire on a team and helped build a design thinking culture within that team, he or she should feature this. Other examples might include a candidate’s contributions to a team’s design standards, design reviews, and crafting hiring processes.

Design Exercise

More and more companies give design candidates a design exercise to complete during the on-site interview to see how they think on their feet and handle themselves under pressure. The most common approach seems to be the one we use: a design problem is provided to the candidate right after the portfolio review, then he or she is given forty-five minutes before the hiring panel shows up for the debrief. Some organizations may ask candidates to come prepared with a solution to a design problem that’s given to them beforehand.

The problems themselves run the gamut from the fantastic (“How would you design a time machine?”) to the very specific (“How would you design the checkout flow for ABC company?”). In some cases, the assigned problem is an actual problem the team is currently tackling. In others, a hypothetical problem is provided.

When it comes to the debrief, I suggest candidates adhere to the following guidelines:

1. State the problem. I’ve observed that the candidate and the hiring panel don’t always have the same interpretation of the design problem at hand. That’s why, at the start of the debrief, you should describe what you think the problem is so that everyone can understand why you’ve chosen a particular solution.

2. Provide general thoughts. It’s often worthwhile to provide your general thoughts on the design problem, state where you see opportunities and what issues you’ve identified, and clarify any assumptions that you think are reasonable to make. This will enable the audience to relate to your thought process.

3. Focus. Often candidates get overwhelmed by the opportunities presented by a problem. For the purpose of the exercise, it’s best to identify one or two that are worth focusing on.

4. Show, don’t tell. Make sure that you lead the panel through the entire design process, and leverage design artifacts such as workflows, sketches, and concepts. Unfortunately, I have seen many designers merely describe their solutions, thus causing their audience to lose interest.

5. Reflect. As in any design discussion, new constraints will emerge by the minute. When presented with a new constraint, demonstrate that you can deal with on-the-fly changes, and give a thoughtful explanation of how you’d account for it.


There are many ways to plan and prepare for an onsite interview. My suggested approach will, I hope, be useful to many candidates. I encourage you to modify it as you see fit. Whatever approach you take, be prepared to tell your story using visually interesting artifacts to make your points. And do let me know how it goes. Good luck!

文章全文为英文版사용자 경험 디자이너 후보들은 서면상으로는 충분한 자격이 되지만, 면접 인터뷰에서는 힘겨운 분투를 하는 경우가 많습니다. 자신이 만든 좋은 디자인 과정에 대한 지식을 강조해서 보여주고, 디자인 자원이 부족한 상황에서 갑자기 발생하는 여러가지 문제를 잘 처리하는 능력을 선보이는 사례들을 공유함으로써, 성공적인 면접 인터뷰에 필요한 포트폴리오 검토 및 디자인 연습을 준비하는 방법을 배웁니다.

전체 기사는 영어로만 제공됩니다.Os candidatos de design de experiência do usuário frequentemente são altamente qualificados no papel, mas sofrem nas entrevistas no local. Aprenda como se preparar para a análise de portfólio e exercício de design necessários ao sucesso de uma entrevista, através de exemplos compartilhados que destacam seu comando de um bom processo de design e expõem sua habilidade em lidar com os desafios que surgem repentinamente, e durante os quais há escassez de recursos.

O artigo completo está disponível somente em inglês.UXデザイン分野の就職希望者は、筆記試験では十分であっても、オンサイトインタビュー(会社での面接)で苦しむことが多いようだ。この記事では、優れたデザインプロセスを実行したり、突然持ち上がってきた課題に対処したりする能力を強調するような例を共有するというやり方で、オンサイトインタビューにおける成功に必要なポートフォリオレビューとデザイン実習の準備方法について語っている。

原文は英語だけになりますA menudo los candidatos a puestos relacionados con el diseño de la experiencia de usuario están sumamente capacitados a nivel académico, pero tienen dificultades en las entrevistas in situ. Aprenda cómo prepararse para una revisión de su portafolio y para la realización de los ejercicios de diseño necesarios para una entrevista in situ exitosa, a partir del intercambio de ejemplos que destacan su dominio del proceso de diseño y demuestran su capacidad para enfrentar los desafíos que surgen repentinamente en entornos en los cuales los recursos son escasos.

La versión completa de este artículo está sólo disponible en inglés